I recently got a chance to play with copper solder, and I LOVE it! This awesome copper solder is 7% phosporous (and 93% copper), which makes it self-fluxing. It flows and melts around the same temperature as hard-grade silver solder, so you can easily solder links, small bezels, and other basic joins with a butane micro torch.
Why do I love copper solder?
#1: It’s easy!
Jewelers have traditionally used silver solder to solder copper, but when using silver on copper, you have to be very careful so the silver seam doesn’t show. Since the copper solder is 93% copper (making it copper colored, even after you solder with it), I can enjoy the freedom of having my small mistakes invisible to the untrained eye. And it’s nice that the 7% phosphorous portion makes it self-fluxing, so I don’t have to use flux.
#2: It’s inexpensive.
Copper solder is about 1/10 the price of silver solder: silver solder is around $40 per ounce, but you can get 4 entire ounces of copper solder for around $14. I can experiment and practice all day and it only costs me a few dollars worth of materials. I can make affordable copper jewelry, and/or I can decide to upgrade to sterling silver, after practicing new techniques with copper.
#3: I have everything I need.
I finally bought my own torch last year, but haven’t used it a lot yet. I got the Blazer torch kit, so I’d have everything I need — 2 types of tweezers, a solder pick, and a few different soldering surfaces.
How do you use copper solder?
If you already know how to solder sterling or fine silver, then you already know how to solder copper. If you have no soldering experience, or have only used “soft” solder and soldering irons before, then copper solder is an EXCELLENT material to begin with.
So, where do you begin? At the very minimum, you need:
- Raw (bare, unplated) copper
- Copper solder
- A torch that gets hot enough for the job (all of Rings & Things’ torches work fine for this — but a soldering iron does not get hot enough).
- A firing surface — I use a magnesia soldering block on top of a ceramic fire block on top of an old cookie sheet.
- Something to grab melty-hot metal items. Check out the tweezers listed & linked in this kit.
Generally, you’ll drop your freshly-soldered item in a pickle pot or a metal can full of cool water. And there are safety considerations … you don’t really want to catch your clothing or kitchen/craft table on fire, or breathe or splash unknown chemicals, so if you’re completely new to soldering, pick up a book like Simple Soldering, by Kate Ferrant Richbourg, or Soldering Made Simple, by Joe Silvera.
Here is my project: Simple soldered links, for a bracelet or necklace.
To make my loops, I used ring-bending pliers and the large side of Wubbers Extra-Large bail-making pliers to shape some quick links out of 16-gauge raw copper wire, and hammered them a bit on my metal block. Then I cut the ends nice and straight with flush cutters (You know solder doesn’t fill gaps, right? So your spots to be joined need to line up very cleanly … or your solder join is doomed or ugly), laid out a few links, and started soldering.
I soldered the quick way — torch in one hand, and spool of solder in the other hand. Heat up a link, then touch the solder to the joint, and fwoosh, it flowed. Sometimes a little too well, so my solder spots are a little globbier than they technically should be. So now I’m actually reading my copy of Kate Ferrant Richbourg’s Simple Soldering rather than just just flipping through and looking at the diagrams. Soon, I hope to pop in the DVD (included with the Simple Soldering book)!
The tips and techniques in Simple Soldering are all about silver soldering, but apply just as well to copper soldering.
One last tip based on questions I received last weekend: Do you know which part of the flame is hottest? You might think it is inside the brightest blue part of the flame, but it actually the darker space just past the tip of that bright blue inner cone.
Coming soon…. (now finished)
Next blog, I’ll share a technique to add beads (even fragile beads!) directly to links before soldering them!